Sally Rooney’s ‘Normal People’ brings a different perspective to the romance genre


Photo credit: Hogarth Press

“Normal People” by Sally Rooney brings a different perspective to the romance genre.

Josie Morrow, Views/Entertainment Section Editor

“Normal People” follows Marianne and Connell through their on and off again relationship in secondary school and university. Readers are shown an intimate look into their relationship with all its ups and downs and painful inbetweens.
Connell has grown up in a lower-middle-class household with his single mother cleaning houses. One day, when picking his mother up from work, he meets the shy, timid Marianne.
This turns into a secretive relationship between the two that inevitably fizzles out as Connell is a popular football player at their secondary school and Marianne is considered weird and ugly, based on her lack of social skills.
They meet again a year later at Trinity College, and the social dynamics have drastically changed. Marianne has found herself in the new social order of college, while Connell, on the other hand, has drifted to the sidelines, not finding his footing.
They will repeatedly fall apart and then come back together. While Connell is trying to find meaning in his life, Marianne is self-destructing. This leads readers to the question: how far will they go to help each other?
Compared to many classic romance books, “Normal People” presents us with something that we do not normally see: two deeply flawed, realistic characters. Connell is constantly struggling with self-doubt and a lack of purpose, while in Marianne’s head we see abuse from her father and brother that will always haunt her. These emotions bleed into their relationship with each other and are the reason they truly are not meant to be (or are they?).
After finishing the book, readers will still be haunted by the question of whether or not the couple is right for each other. Is their ability to help each other through their issues a strength or are their issues too damaging to their relationship for it to be healthy?
Sally Rooney’s brilliant use of class (Marianne’s wealthy family and Connell’s blue-collar mother), mental illness (Connell’s diagnosis with depression) and the raw emotion in this book are like no other. At times, I had to put down the book because I felt I was intruding on something I shouldn’t be.
My critiques of the book would include Marianne’s brother Alan’s lack of substance. He is the villain of the story for physically and verbally abusing Marianne, but we are never given any other background. This makes the character one dimensional and only there to serve a purpose.
The book also is unconventional in the sense that there is very little plot. There is no exposition, climax, or resolution.
I view this as an intentional decision by Sally Rooney to emanate Marrianne’s and Connell’s relationship. There is no set end or beginning but rather there is just falling out and back together just like her plot.
With just those few minor critiques, it is one of the best books of the genre written in recent years, rivaling true classic works by Austen and Brontë.
Sally Rooney has the incredible ability to write human stories. Stories that are uncomfortable, but also push you to question how you see the world.